Digital boxes not as effective in Demopolis

Published 12:03 am Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Demopolis TV viewers who rely on analog-only television sets without cable or satellite could lose most or all of their over-the-air broadcast channels following a Feb. 17 digital transition, even if they have purchased and hooked up digital converter boxes.

That’s because many TV stations that serve this area will be too far to give a steady digital signal for a TV using “rabbit ears” or a small antenna. Demopolis has been within those stations’ fringe coverage area, whether it has been stations from Montgomery, Tuscaloosa or Meridian.

After the transition Demopolis will be affected by what is known as the digital “cliff effect.” Unlike analog signals, digital broadcasts either come in clear or not at all, meaning that those on the fringes of analog coverage areas will lose that reception entirely after the transition.

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Some viewers may, therefore, need more powerful antennas in addition to converter boxes to continue receiving certain channels, or get cable or satellite TV.

Lynn Goldman, the president of Demopolis CATV, said his customers would continue to receive reception regardless of whether they own an analog TV or digital set.

“We’re ready for the switch-over,” said Goldman. “The equipment is in place and everything is set. Viewers will not notice any change or disruption of service at all.”

There will be some changes in programming, though.

“Through the transition, we are having to change some of our local channels our consumers receive,” said Goldman. “We are losing three local channels, but gaining more from other local areas.”

Demopolis CATV will no longer carry WSFA Channel 12, the NBC affiliate out of Montgomery as well as WBRC Fox-6 in Birmingham and WDBB TV-17 in Tuscaloosa.

It will pick up WMDN TV-24 CBS in Meridian, MyTV in Meridian, and CW in Meridian. It also will add WGBC TV-30 NBC in Meridian, Fox Meridian and MyTV Meridian to its high-definition digital lineup.

The other local stations already offered will remain the same. They are WGBC TV-7 NBC in Meridian, WCFT TV-33 ABC in Tuscaloosa, WAKA TV-8 CBS in Selma/Montgomery; Fox in Meridian, and WYOK TV-11 ABC in Meridian.

Most of the changes in programming will be in effect by Jan. 1.

“Some of them will be operating on lower signal strength until Feb. 17,” said Goldman. “They will all be up to full power by then.”

According to Goldman, approximately 5 percent or less of residents within the Demopolis CATV coverage area are not already plugged into cable or satellite.

“We have been getting a lot of calls from people who are not on cable or satellite and bought the digital conversion boxes to pick up the local channels,” he said. “If they do pick up anything, most likely it will be sporadic, coming on and off. That is because we do not live near enough to a major city where the digital signal is stronger. It is a lot like the way we lose cell phone coverage in many of the rural areas of the Black Belt.”

The transition from analog to digital broadcasting is expected to free up valuable spectrum that can be used to deliver high-speed Internet access and other commercial wireless services and to connect police officers, fire fighters and other emergency workers.